Donald Trump’s Millennial Madness

Well, there were no porn stars present. Nor were there any kids barely out of puberty protesting and lecturing their elders on complex and deadly serious policy issues of which they are laughably ignorant. So, the corporate press didn’t report on it much and, hence, you, dear reader, mightn’t know that President Trump held a forum for millennials at the White House last Thursday.

Fortunately, we no longer depend entirely on the driftwood and garbage cast ashore by the mainstream media and their smaller tributaries for news, and Trump’s millennial summit did catch Scott Greer’s eye over at The Daily Caller.  Alas, Greer was, to put it mildly, unimpressed; titling his piece “Trump’s Millennial Forum Was an Epic Failure,” describing it therein as a “total travesty,” and lambasting the President for failing to address any “hot button issues for young people.” 

Now, many right-thinking folks will probably blanch a bit at the lefty-sounding phrase, “hot button issues for young people.” But, try to stay calm, because that light blanching is likely to turn into full blown pallor when you hear the specifics. For, brace yourself, Greer thinks the President should’ve take a page out of Bernie Sanders playbook by addressing millennial concerns about the so-called “student debt crisis.”

In case you missed it amongst all the important news concerning pee pee dossiers and Trump’s habit of getting an extra scoop of ice cream (I’m waiting for Maxine Waters to call the latter an impeachable offense, hopefully it wasn’t vanilla), Greer explains:

About 44 million Americans have student loan debt, and the average amount for a recent graduate is over $35,000.

This form of debt is the primary reason young people are delaying home ownership and other responsibilities.

And, of course, Greer is understating the extent of the problem here. In many, if not most, cases the “delay” in home ownership winds up being eternal.

As Greer notes, Bernie Sanders, alone among contenders for the title of “45th President,” made student debt a major campaign issue. So, I can hear the voice of enraged conservative opinion at Greer faulting Trump for not aping socialist Sanders:

Damn entitled kids! They take out loans to waste time studying art history or feminism or some other useless discipline. But, when it’s time to pay up, they want somebody else to foot the bill. Whatever happened to taking responsibility for your own decisions and keeping your commitments! Why on earth should my tax dollars be used to bail out irresponsible young adults who make decisions that any sane person could have told them were terrible.

As is usually the case, the voice of enraged conservative opinion has a point. But, as is less often true, it doesn’t quite encompass the whole story.

For 13 years, I was a professor in one of those useless disciplines. And, while I don’t really believe that the classic texts in philosophy are useless, the so-called “education” undergraduate majors receive in them at our prestigious Universities almost always is.

Nowadays, if you’re a professor at an even half-way prestigious place, you probably average less than ten hours a week in front of a classroom. You don’t regard teaching as your real job — you do way too little of it for that to even be possible! It’s rather, an unpleasant necessity that gets in the way of your real job: producing research. But, nonetheless, necessity it is. Teaching provides a cover story to the public to justify your high salary. And, pathetic as it sounds, literally no one has any interest in at least 99 percent of academic research apart from its authors. So, without students to force to read their work, the evident pointlessness of academic research might become evidently pointed even to the researchers themselves.

However, though the students do play a crucial role in the higher education scam, educating them doesn’t. In fact, trying to do so will earn you the undying hostility of most humanities majors, causing decreased enrollments, which might ultimately result in you and your colleagues having to get real jobs, pay for your own computers and vacations, and, heaven forbid, do some work during the summer months and December. And, since academics are typically born, not out of any love for their discipline but, rather, out of a hatred of real work, Universities no longer educate students, they appease them.

But, like many who discern the ring of truth in the voice of enraged conservative opinion, appeasement doesn’t come naturally to me. And, unlike my colleagues, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t get comfortable running into our alumni working the checkout scanner at the local Whole Foods or Starbucks. It’s not that I disdain working people. Far from it; my father spent almost his entire working life slicing lunch meet behind the counter at a supermarket deli. But knowing that my students were going into massive debt while getting neither an education nor any chance at a job that would allow them to comfortably pay it off was hard to bear.

So, absolutely alone among my colleagues, I tried to convince students who weren’t getting anything out of college except poor work habits (that is to say, the vast majority of humanities majors)  – to take some time off.  And, though I didn’t scare them by adopting the voice of enraged conservative opinion, I did give them that voices reasonable take on the error of their ways. The responses I typically got, however, made me question whether these kids really are entirely to blame for the debt they’re drowning in.

For what the voice of enraged conservative opinion may not realize is that many of them didn’t have any particular strong desire to be in college. What I discovered was that most were enrolled only because every single person in their lives was insisted that they had to. For as long as each could remember, he or she was consistently and adamantly told that any 18-year-old who works for a living instead of continuing in school is a low-class loser, an object of alternating pity and scorn.

Sadly, the worst offenders were usually the parents, more concerned with what the neighbors will think than the deleterious effect crippling debt and four years doing lackluster work in a useless major was bound to have on their kids.  I once earned the undying enmity of a business acquaintance by trying to convince his son that he was better off waiting tables for a few years and starting college later with some clear goal in mind than majoring in theater at some third-rate institution that had cribbed its admission criteria from the base of the statue of liberty. His father couldn’t have cared less if the kid wasted time and got into debt. The important thing was to not have to live with the embarrassment of the neighbors knowing he had a 20-year-old son who was gainfully employed.

And, of course, there’d also be zero chance of any bank lending an 18 year old kid 100,000 dollars to pursue a degree in philosophy if the government didn’t use its monopoly on force to guarantee repayment. If you can’t pay your credit card bill, the worst Citibank can do is ruin your credit. But, if you don’t pay off your student loan debt, the feds will let your creditors  garnish up to 15% of your disposable income, even if you earn minimum wage and need every penny to live a tolerably decent life. So, the government is complicit in the student loan crisis and, unfortunately, when the government decides to hold a profligate dance, we the people wind up footing the fiddler’s bill.

But don’t descend into bitter panic yet. For, it turns out that there are reasonable ways to address the problem that don’t require pumping more of your money into the ludicrous joke known as “higher education.” And, though Bernie Sanders was the only candidate to emphasize student debt during the campaign, Donald Trump did in fact have his own ideas on the subject; ideas that, moreover, placed the burden squarely on the shoulders of those who deserve it most, namely the universities who make big bucks encouraging students to drown themselves in debt.

And, make no mistake, despite their non-profit status, Universities are big businesses just as much as Coca Cola and Microsoft are. Like any big business, they invest in market research, branding, and advertisement in order to get folks who don’t really need their product to go broke spending money on it anyway. For their pains, the average private-college president these days is paid around 600,000 dollars a year, with around 60 of them making over a million. Average Provosts salaries at research institutions approach 200,000 dollars; average Dean salaries approach 150,000.

As to faculty, at a public school like UCLA, the lowest yearly salary an associate professor (the rank which ordinarily carries tenure) can make is 75,000 dollars. And, believe me, I was on UCLA’s faculty for 8 years and no senior faculty I knew made anything close to that lowest possible figure. Six-figure senior faculty salaries were the norm. That mightn’t seem like a lot to some, but we only taught four courses a year, each course running only 10 weeks with, at most, 4 hours of classroom time per course each week. That comes to a yearly average of less than 3 hours of teaching per week. Nice work, especially if you can get it at a six-figure salary.

“Non-profit,” in this context, as in most, turns out to be a bit of Orwellian newspeak. What it really means is that the profits are taken as salary rather than out of the business. American Colleges’ non-profit status is just another part of the higher education scam.

Candidate Trump’s idea for solving the debt crisis was to make the Universities that profit from it bear some of the cost of the crippling debt they knowingly inflict on their charges. And, in fact, there is an obvious and easy way to force American colleges to, as Trump’s advisor Sam Clovis succinctly put it, “have some skin in the game.”

American colleges long ago abrogated their mission of educating students, replacing education with indoctrination. And they’ve shamelessly made enormous sums of money enticing students into paying for the privilege of indoctrination by mortgaging any chance at a happy adult life. So why not implement draconian taxes on University endowments and other holdings to pay off the loans of all those students got conned into taking out to fund the lavish lifestyles of academics who neither work hard nor produce anything of value?

Trust me, the students I run into trying to pay of massive amounts of debt while working at Starbucks have no love for their almae matres. There’s nothing quite like having a few hundred dollars a month deducted from the paltry paycheck you earn working 40-hour weeks, 52 weeks a year to breed resentment against the pampered and useless academics whose pocket it winds up in.

And, of course, Taxing the enormous wealth many of our Universities have would not only provide a just way of helping the victims of their predatory business practices. It would also give these rightfully angry students something dear to the hearts of all the downtrodden, sweet revenge, and, hence, would certainly earn the President a little millennial love.

It’s time to face the fact that American colleges and universities have, with government complicity, become predatory businesses, no better than phony televangelists –  the one falsely promises salvation, the other, education. Indeed, the phony televangelist is arguably less the scoundrel since his victims tend to be elderly and, hence, at least have had some chance at a fulfilling adult life before he robs them of any decent future. Making the higher education establishment foot the bill for their rapacious perfidy would also hamper their ability to indoctrinate. The predatory business practices fund the indoctrination; cripple the former and the latter falls as well.

So, Scott Greer turns out to be right. President Trump could have done a much better job at his millennial summit. In fact, all he needed to do was remember candidate Trump’s prescient idea that those who make enormous profits saddling our kids with crippling debt and giving nothing in return ought to be the ones to pay its price. Here’s hoping that he finds time to remember.









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